Air Crashes throughout East Lothian

Stacks Image 41

East Lothian's four airfields

East Lothian's geography

East Lothian is a small county hemmed in by the sea to the north and the Lammermuir Hills to the south. The Lammermuirs are gentle, rolling hills which rise to a maximum height of 1,755 feet (535 metres). Unfortunately, in the days before radar was sufficiently advanced to allow a pilot to 'see' high ground and fly over it in safety, these heather-clad hills were often a deadly obstacle, especially at night or in poor weather conditions. Ground based radar was likewise insufficiently accurate to allow a Ground Station to warn pilots of dangers ahead.

The risks in training aircrew

The risks involved in front-line fighting are well known: those flying any aircraft deep into enemy territory knew full well that their chances of surviving a tour of thirty operations were against them. Leonard Cheshire was awarded the Victoria Cross not for any single act, but for demonstrating a continuous degree of bravery over operation after operation: as good an indication as any of the tremendous strain and dangers one faced on ops. What is perhaps less well-known are the dangers and risks faced by those in training. Over 8,000 men died during training in the RAF alone and it is therefore hardly surprising that the majority of the airmen who died in East Lothian died during training or while training others.

Tiredness, stress, fear, unfamiliarity, inexperience and youthful overconfidence, added to technical weaknesses and mechanical failures and the overriding necessity to accept serious risks in often worn out aircraft, meant that training aircrew was done at a significant human cost. Sadly, the risk had to be taken as the UK desperately needed aircrew, especially in the early years of the war.


Deep in the public consciousness throughout the UK today is the image of the Battle of Britain pilot doing daily battle with the Luftwaffe and ultimately winning the key Battle of Britain. What is less well known is that some twenty per cent of the near 3,000 pilots who fought during this battle, around 595, were not from the UK at all. Europeans (Czechs, Poles, Free French, Irish) joined those from the Empire (New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, etc.) while a small number came from America and elsewhere. This Allied geographical universality explains why so many of those who are commemorated in East Lothian graveyards are from all over the world.

East Lothian's airfields

There were four airfields in East Lothian itself:

RAF Drem
RAF East Fortune
RAF Macmerry
SLG 27 Lennoxlove

Drem was principally a fighter base responsible for the air defence of the Lothians and of Edinburgh and naval installations on the Forth in particular. Nonetheless, training and proving flights from Drem would have been a regular occurrence. From 18th October 1942, 784 Sq Fleet Air Arm Night Fighter School shared Drem with the RAF. On the 21st April 1945, with the reduction in the need for fighter defences over the Lothians, Drem was given on loan to the FAA and renamed HMS Nighthawk, a 'Stone Frigate' in the naval slang of the day. 784 Squadron trained crews in Ground Control Interception in tandem with the GCI station at Dirleton.

East Fortune was a training establishment from the start. In June 1941, No 60 Operational Training Unit moved to the airfield from RAF Leaconfield. 60 OTU was dedicated to training operational night fighter crews using a mix of Defiants, Blenheims and Beaufighters over a three month posting. By June 1942, the pressing need for night fighters had lessened and part of 60 OTU was switched to Coastal Command and the training of daylight strike operations on Beaufighters. Finally, in November 1942, the complete OTU was transferred to Coastal Command, re-designated 132 OTU and used Blenheims, Beaufighters, Beauforts (and later on Mosquitoes) in the daylight strike training role.

Macmerry can generally be described as a mixed bag. In 1941 it hosted RAF/Army co-operation squadrons flying Blenheims, Lysanders and later Mustangs. Part of 58 OTU, based in RAF Grangemouth, used Macmerry for fighter training up to April 1942. From December 1943, 740 Naval Air Squadron used the airfield. This was a communications squadron. Macmerry was also used as a satellite station for RAF East Fortune and later housed RAF Regiment squadrons for training. In June 1945, the airfield was transferred to the Fleet Air Arm and re-named HMS Nighthawk II.

SLG 27 Lennoxlove was used purely for the storage of surplus aircraft or aircraft awaiting distribution or repair. It was not a training base.

Air Accidents pages

The Air Accidents section which follows will examine a number of individual air accidents in depth and will (eventually!) list all those crashes known to have occurred in East Lothian.

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